BYU sweeps past Rice for tourney title

(Photo by Jonathan Hardy/BYU Photo)

HOUSTON—Tournament MVP Jennifer Hamson’s season-high 18 kills helped the BYU women’s volleyball team to a sweep of the Rice Invitational after downing host Rice 3-0 (25-23, 25-19, 25-22) to secure the tournament title Saturday.

“I thought we responded well and played well against a good Rice team,” head coach Shawn Olmstead said. “We found ourselves down by as much as five points during the match, but we were able to be steady and focus on the next point, not worry with overall score. We were able to make those plays little by little. We didn’t have the performances we’ve had out of some of the girls, but other girls were able to step up and give us what we needed”.

Hamson also recorded four block assists and a solo block. Senior middle blocker Nicole Warner had five block assists and a solo block herself. Newcomer Alexa Gray proved invaluable at outside hitter with 13 kills and fellow freshman Ciara Parker had a personal-best 22 digs. Setter Heather Hannemann had 46 assists.

The Owl's Laurie McNamara proved a handful for the Cougars (3-0) in the first set, dishing out two kills and a block to put BYU behind 3-0. Down 10-5 due to attack errors, the Cougars slowly made their way back into the competition on a 5-1 run with the help of their middle blockers.

Gray tied up the set at 17-17 on a kill, setting up Kathryn LeCheminant to take the first BYU lead of the match with her own kill. After back-and-forth play led to four ties, Hamson pushed the Cougars ahead by two on a kill, aided by Hannemann, for a 22-20 lead. Rice (1-2) kept within two points the rest of the match, but couldn’t recover as a Hamson kill took the 25-23 set for BYU.

The Cougars were back on their game in the second set, setting off on a 5-1 run. This time BYU went ahead 10-5 and Rice was forced to attempt the comeback. Gray subbed back in midway through the set and helped BYU stay ahead with a kill on her first play, increasing her kills count to double figures.

Rice stayed within five points through the latter half of the set, but was unable to rally, allowing the Cougars to win the second set 25-19.

With BYU making a run at a third-straight sweep and the tournament title and Rice attempting to prevent a 3-0 route, the Owls doggedly held on and wouldn’t give the Cougars more than a three-point lead through most of the set. It took two Hamson kills and a shared block with Warner to shake off Rice and put BYU ahead 13-8.

But the Owls didn’t let the Cougars get comfortable with the five-point lead. A 5-1 Rice scoring streak gave BYU a scare as McNamara brought the Owls back to only a 16-15 deficit. LeCheminant and Hannemann responded with a block followed by Hannemann assisting the junior middle blocker in a kill for a score of 19-16. Then back-to-back BYU attack errors negated the duo’s work and brought Rice back for a 20-20 tie.

The Owls took their first lead since the beginning of the set on a Nancy Cole kill, but Hamson made sure it was the opponents’ last lead of the night. Hamson’s next kill tied the set and yet another block with Warner stole the lead back for BYU. Another kill and solo block by 6-foot-7 Hamson took the set, the match and the tournament title for the Cougars, sending BYU back to Provo with a perfect 3-0 start to the season.

Hamson was named tournament MVP following the match, with Gray and Hannemann named to the all-tournament team.

Next up for the Cougars is another tournament on the road. The team heads to Wichita State for the Shocker Volleyball Classic Friday and Saturday. Besides Wichita State, BYU will face another Mountain West foe Colorado State and Tennessee. BYU starts the tournament with a Friday match against the host at 7 p.m. CDT.

BYU vs. Rice Box Score